by Matt Kaufman
If you or someone you know is facing an unplanned pregnancy, you should know that pregnancy resource centers are devoted to offering women alternatives to abortion, helping them make informed choices and providing a range of services to support them throughout their pregnancy and beyond.
Pregnancy resource centers are numerous and widespread. Many are affiliated with PRC networks such as Heartbeat International, Care Net or the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, while others are independent or part of smaller networks.
Boston is vice president at Heartbeat International, which counts more than 1,500 U.S. PRCs among its affiliates and maintains a contact list of many others. She estimates that there are between 2,600 and 2,700 pregnancy resource centers in the U.S.
Most women around the country – not just in big cities, but in medium-size and smaller communities as well – have access to a PRC.
If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy, looking for an alternative to abortion or just want to locate the nearest pregnancy resource center, call Option Line at 800-712-HELP (800-712-4357). This is a free 24/7 service that can refer you to a PRC in your area where you can get help in person. You can also text “Helpline” to 313131 or visit OptionLine.org and enter your ZIP code to find a center.
Some pregnancy resource centers are just that – strictly resource centers, providing information and nonmedical services. Many others, however, are also medical clinics to varying degrees, with a professional staff that can include doctors, nurses and many other medical professionals.
At any PRC, you can count on getting information and counseling about alternatives to abortion, as well as referrals for medical care and other assistance.
PRCs provide counseling and classes that address not only the decision to have a child, but the options afterward such as whether to raise the child yourself or to make an adoption plan. They might offer classes in parenting and sometimes even general life skills, which could include anything from healthy relationships to financial management. Many also offer material support, including basic baby supplies like diapers, clothing and formula.
When Marta found herself unexpectedly pregnant, she didn’t think she could afford to have and raise a child on her own living in New York City. The chance to see her daughter flourishing in her womb via an ultrasound convinced her to choose life. On top of that, God has proven faithful and continued to care for Marta and her little girl.
Centers with a medical component might offer any number of other services – all of them either free or low-cost – such as pregnancy testing, ultrasound examinations, and STI testing and treatment.
“There are a variety of levels of medical centers,” Boston says. “Some of them do prenatal care. Some of them even have a birthing center.”
And for those services that these centers don’t provide directly, they typically work with other agencies that will.
“Pregnancy resource centers specialize in networking, gathering information and developing relationships with a variety of community organizations,” Boston says. “Every center is a one-stop location for pregnancy-help resources, and most have a very long list of partners to provide services as needed.”
Some of those additional services include:
What an initial visit to a pregnancy resource center looks like will definitely vary from place to place. But what happens at The Keim Centers – a group of Virginia-based PRCs with five locations in Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach – is common practice at many PRCs.
“We have a nurse and a patient advocate who meet with the woman,” says Paige Coulter, director of nursing for Keim. “We do a urine pregnancy test on site, and we usually get the results on the same visit.
“The nurses meet with the patient, go over her medical history, and just get to know her and see what services would be appropriate. The advocate also meets her, gets to know her—her situation, why she’s considering different options for the pregnancy. We’ll offer a limited ultrasound if it’s appropriate and provide education about all of her options for the pregnancy.”
At just about any PRC, Boston says, you’ll get more than just professional expertise. You’ll also find warm hearts and firm commitment.
“When you walk into a pregnancy center, you’ll experience warmth, kindness and compassion both from the staff and from volunteers,” Boston says. “The people are specialists in bringing care, comfort and practical solutions. They listen and they learn about a woman’s situation, walk her through her options and empower her to make decisions. Pregnancy centers provide classes and ongoing support systems. They’re in it with her for the long haul.”
First and foremost, PRCs exist to help women facing an unplanned pregnancy and provide them with alternatives to abortion.
“Our goal is to reach the woman who believes that abortion is her only option” says Wendy Manos, vice president of development for The Keim Centers. “No woman wakes up and thinks, I want an abortion today. There’s something driving her to think she has no other choice.”
Whatever that something is, it generally boils down to fear – and that fear is often magnified by the feeling that she’s all alone in her pregnancy. The feeling that there’s no one to help her. In addition, there may be other people who are upset, disappointed or angry with her – or would be if they even knew she was pregnant. She may even feel disappointed or angry with herself.
More often than not, women come in alone, Manos says. “In fact, sometimes telling us they’re pregnant is the first time they’ve told anyone. And when a woman says it out loud, sometimes just hearing herself talk about her situation can be a game changer. It opens up our conversation. We find out what fear is driving her to think that abortion is the only option. Then we share resources to help her deal with the problem.”
That’s a familiar story at most pregnancy resource centers, says Heartbeat International’s Cindi Boston.
“Most of these young women feel completely alone when they walk in the door,” she says. “When we have an injury or illness, people rally around us. But an unplanned pregnancy is a separator for many women. They may have shame or regret. They may feel abandoned by the boyfriend.”
When that happens, people at the PRC step in to provide all the support that they can. In addition, they may be able to help the woman find support from others – and, perhaps, a community of new friends and mentors.
On some occasions, however, a young woman does have the support of a boyfriend, family or friends when she first arrives at a pregnancy resource center, or she may receive that support from them afterward.
“There are times when we’re speaking to people around her – her family, her friends, the father of her child,” Boston says. “There are times when we’re speaking to whole family units.”
PRC staff recognize this as an opportunity they can’t afford to squander, which is why they’re engaging more fathers than ever. Boston says they’ve had men who weren’t planning on being involved in the child’s life change their minds simply because a male mentor spoke plainly to them:
“They had an older man talk about the responsibilities of being a dad – and the joys of being a dad. The young men rose to the occasion, got involved, and stayed involved. They eventually married their child’s mom and built good lives together.”
While no one knows for sure exactly how many women choose life for their babies after engaging with pregnancy resource centers, it’s safe to say that the number is in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, in the U.S. alone. Every PRC can recount numerous success stories, and – while each of those stories is to be cherished – some are truly remarkable.
Boston, who used to be a PRC director before taking her position at Heartbeat International, tells of a pregnant woman who’d just received a stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis. She was set to begin chemotherapy the next week and was told that she had to get an abortion.
When the women first arrived at the PRC, Boston says, she was weeping uncontrollably. “I’m pregnant and they told me I have to terminate, but I don’t want to do that,” the woman said. “But a nurse handed me your business card and said you might be able to help me.”
This woman knew the risks. She’d been warned of fetal abnormalities that could result from the chemotherapy. She was told not only that the child might die, but that her own life was also in danger.
“They gave her the worst-case scenario on everything,” Boston says. “But she said to us, ‘If you will stand with me, I will carry this baby to term.’ ”
So every week for eight months, she went for her chemo treatments, then came over to the PRC.
“We prayed with her, mentored her, gave her gasoline cards, paid for part of her housing,” Boston says. “While fighting for her life and her child’s, she shouldn’t have [had] to fight financial pressures, too.”
The story had a happy ending: “That baby was born beautiful—perfectly healthy.” But Boston remembers the story not just for the result, but for what it dramatically illustrates about the work of PRCs everywhere.
“These centers just step up to the plate and do whatever it takes,” she says. “That’s one example of what they do every day – throughout the United States and the world.”
Greta Henry, the director of a pregnancy resource center in Illinois, shares inspiring stories of how centers like hers are changing the minds of abortion-seeking moms and saving pre-born babies’ lives. Rain Pierce joins the conversation to tell her dramatic story of past domestic violence, drug abuse and God’s redemptive power in her life.
Many PRCs also offer help for women who’ve already undergone an abortion. This help can take the form of private counseling, classes or small support groups. The goal is to provide a setting where women can talk through their experiences and feelings, and to assist them in finding physical, emotional and spiritual healing.
Likewise, The Keim Centers reach out to post-abortive women.
“We offer opportunities to those who’ve already made that decision and followed through with it,” Johnson says. “We offer classes to help them find healing and restoration. That’s also part of sharing the love of Jesus.”
In most cases, yes.
Pregnancy resource centers serve people of all faiths or no faith at all, and they’re not about “forcing their religion” on anyone. But they’ll share their Christian faith freely with anyone who wants to hear about it when the time and circumstances are right. Many women welcome this message. They want someone to pray with them, to talk about God’s love. And not just to talk: They take comfort in finding people who demonstrate that same love, treating them in a kind, caring manner. This is especially important if those same women aren’t getting that treatment from other people in their lives.
PRCs are places where women in difficult situations will find professionals and volunteers motivated by faith and caring hearts; people who will walk alongside them every step of the way.
“Pregnancy resource centers are the hands of Jesus to a woman who’s facing an unplanned pregnancy,” Boston says. “We believe that no woman should have to stand alone in that situation. I could tell you story after story about women who walk in desperate and walk out with joy because they realize: ‘I’m not alone.’ ”
You’ll find a similar perspective at The Keim Centers.
“Our main focus is to save lives, spare hearts and further the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” says Cindy Johnson, Keim’s communications director. “Everything we do comes from that. We seek to save the lives of babies, to spare the hearts of mothers and families, and – when the time is appropriate – to bring the Gospel as often as we can.”
Hear the story of a teen girl who had an unplanned pregnancy and decided to keep her child…a child who would one day become the director of a pregnancy clinic! Laura Hughes shares about the compassion, love and support she received from her family and the incredible forgiveness available to all men and women through Christ.
Naturally, there’s a strong relationship between pregnancy resource centers and the faith community. Although most PRCs aren’t formally tied to a particular church, the bulk of their support – including volunteers and donors – comes from “the people in the pews.” That’s how PRCs are able to offer women so many services for free or at minimal cost.
This support enables PRCs to partner with churches and parachurch ministries in creative ways, and these same relationships then help open doors for the women the centers serve to find new communities to stand by them throughout their pregnancy and afterward.
One such community is Embrace Grace, a ministry that connects women with unplanned pregnancies – as well as single moms in general – to various church-based support groups.
Embrace Grace, which currently is active in 540 churches across 47 states and eight countries, was designed to supplement the work of PRCs, according to its president, Amy Ford.
“Women may get the Gospel at PRCs, but they need some place to grow in their faith and a group to grow with – in this case, a group that includes other moms,” Ford says. Pregnancy resource centers refer women to a local church that’s hosting an Embrace Grace class as well as holding a free baby shower.
“Sometimes the baby shower gets them in the door, then Jesus does the rest,” Ford says. “The pregnancy centers are amazing, but the church is forever. Embrace Grace is just a bridge to get young women there.”
Ford says that maybe these women think that church is for “perfect” people, or that they have to have their lives together before they walk into church or else they’ll be judged and shamed.
“There are so many misconceptions,” she says. “When we can just get them past that barrier and get them to try church even one time, it’s amazing to see the transformation that often follows. They start going every week, and even when the program is over, they stay and raise their kids in the church.”
In addition to Embrace Grace classes, the ministry also offers a companion program, Embrace Life, for after the baby is born.
“It’s still about the love of Jesus, but we add a lot of practical things about where you go from here,” Ford says. “Things like parenting skills, time management, financial stewardship, dating and purity.”
Programs like Embrace Life refute one common accusation against pregnancy resource centers and pro-lifers in general – that their only concern is that the baby is born, with little thought given to helping the mothers and children afterward. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
“We believe brave moms raise brave kids, and spiritually healthy moms raise spiritually healthy kids,” Ford says. “We want to get that cycle started. We’ve helped empower more than 6,000 women, and we’re seeing them change the [negative] patterns that have gone on in their families for, in some cases, generations. They say, ‘I’m going to break this pattern and create new legacies for my children and my children’s children.’ ”
To date, pregnancy resource centers have received virtually no government funding. Unlike abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood – which has long received hundreds of millions in federal funds annually – PRCs are completely dependent on donor support.
“Our supporters are vital,” says Wendy Manos of The Keim Centers. “We’re 100% supported by the generosity of our community, both individuals and churches.”
So if you ask Manos what’s the most important thing her PRC needs first, it’s funding. And while any donations at any time are welcome, regular ones are especially so.
“We really can use monthly donors,” she says. “We need regular, reliable support to develop the budget.”
PRC funding comes in a variety of levels from people with a variety of incomes, yet Manos is struck by just how many people feel called to give.
“We do have some major donors,” she says. “But we often find that those who have the least give the most.”
Help doesn’t always arrive in the form of money. Supporters often donate needed items, including baby supplies – diapers, wipes, clothing, etc. Rest assured that these items rarely go to waste.
“A lot of moms tell us that everything they got for their baby came directly from us,” Manos says. “They don’t get baby showers: The people in their life are pushing them toward abortion.”
Above all, she says, supporters give their time. Keim has more than 400 volunteers helping out at its five locations.
“Without our volunteers, we could not operate,” Manos says. “They do so many things. They range from receptionists to patient advocates to people working the phones in the call center. We even have families who bring in their own children to help with our mailings.”
And so it goes with pregnancy resource centers in general, says Heartbeat International’s Cindi Boston.
“The biggest need is simply for the community to get involved, one person at a time,” she says. “You might say, ‘I don’t have a lot of money, but I can give $50 or $25 a month.’ You might say, ‘I can’t give money right now, but I can give my time.’ Either way, you can help.”
Help could take the form of serving as a volunteer mentor to a young woman who needs someone in that role, or coming to the pregnancy center and praying for the women who come in each day. It could mean encouraging the staff of the center, bringing them lunch or writing kind notes. It might involve inviting a pregnancy-center leader to speak at your church. It may even mean sweeping the floor.
“There’s always something you can do,” Boston says.
© 2019 by Matt Kaufman. All rights reserved. Used by permission.